But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
This passage in Luke is similar to the story we saw in Matthew 22:34-40 Again, a lawyer was trying to trick Jesus by asking Him what is the greatest of all the commandments; again, Jesus answered him by saying that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all you have and then to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
The lawyer, probably knowing he had failed on this count, attempted to excuse himself by asking, “And who is my neighbor:” Jesus then explained what He was trying to say by relating the well known story of the Good Samaritan, which readers can read here.
Most of us know the ending of this story; Jesus asked the lawyer, based on the story, just who had been a true neighbor to the man in need. The answer of course, was that the Samaritan who rendered aid to the wounded man was his neighbor.
The lesson in love shown here by the Samaritan who helped the hurt man is actually quite simple. It is really an illustration of how Jesus loves all people and how we, in turn are to love all people.
Our neighbor may be someone who is totally different from us and many even be an enemy. Any reading of the Gospels reveals quickly how Jews and Samaritans felt about each other. In this case the needy man’s own people, the priest and the Levite passed by him while the enemy, the Samaritan, stopped to help.
Our neighbor may be someone we have no obligation to help. Certainly the priest and the Levite were duty bound to help their fellow Jew, but they did not. The Samaritan, with no ethnic or religious duty whatsoever, stopped to help.
Our neighbor may be someone who poses potential risk or sacrifice to us if we help. There were many good reasons not to stop and help a person on the road to Jericho; it was a dangerous place filled with robbers. The hurt man may have only been a trap, for instance.
Our neighbor may be someone who doesn’t deserve our help and certainly cannot be expected to repay us. Not only did Jews hate Samaritans, but they would have treated them as second class citizens, no better than dogs. One of the reasons the priest and Levite would not have stopped is that even touching such a person would have made them ceremonially unclean. Stopping to help a man who probably thinks you are worse than a dog is a hard thing to do.
The Samaritan certainly did not know if he would ever see the money he spent returned. In fact, he dropped the man off at an Inn and left extra money in case his bill ran over. He even said he would come back by and make good on any more expense that may have arisen.
So then, who is our neighbor? Short answer: everyone. There is nothing that someone we may have contact with can do to make them undeserving of being our neighbor. All people, of all types, all races, all religions and all personalities are our neighbors. Jesus has commanded that we love those people as we love ourselves. We are to deal kindly in our encounters with all of our neighbors, as the Samaritan did with the wounded Jew. We are to show the kind of love Jesus showed for all humanity on the cross. He died not just for the lovable, but for all.